NASA Makes Progress Toward Science Priorities Outlined in 2013-2022 Planetary Decadal Survey

In June 2018 NASA’s Curiosity Rover used its Mast Camera, or Mastcam, to snap photos of the intensifying haziness the surface of Mars, caused by a massive dust storm. The rover is standing inside Gale Crater looking out to the crater rim. The photos span about a couple of weeks, starting with a shot of the area before the storm appeared. (Credits: NASA)

WASHINGTON (National Academies PR) – Despite significant cuts to NASA’s Planetary Science Division budget early in this decade, the space agency has made impressive progress in meeting goals outlined in the 2013-2022 planetary decadal survey by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, says a new midterm assessment from the National Academies.

The report notes that the agency met or exceeded the decadal survey’s recommendations for funding research and analysis, and for technology programs. However, NASA has not achieved the recommended timeline for New Frontiers and Discovery missions for the decade. At least one more New Frontiers mission and three Discovery missions should be selected before the end of the decade in order to achieve the schedule recommended in Vision and Voyages.
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Mars Terraforming Not Possible Using Present-Day Technology

This infographic shows the various sources of carbon dioxide on Mars and their estimated contribution to Martian atmospheric pressure. (Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — Science fiction writers have long featured terraforming, the process of creating an Earth-like or habitable environment on another planet, in their stories. Scientists themselves have proposed terraforming to enable the long-term colonization of Mars. A solution common to both groups is to release carbon dioxide gas trapped in the Martian surface to thicken the atmosphere and act as a blanket to warm the planet.

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NASA’s TESS Spacecraft Starts Science Operations

TESS exoplanet satellite (Credit: NASA)

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite has started its search for planets around nearby stars, officially beginning science operations on July 25, 2018. TESS is expected to transmit its first series of science data back to Earth in August, and thereafter periodically every 13.5 days, once per orbit, as the spacecraft makes it closest approach to Earth. The TESS Science Team will begin searching the data for new planets immediately after the first series arrives.

“I’m thrilled that our new planet hunter mission is ready to start scouring our solar system’s neighborhood for new worlds,” said Paul Hertz, NASA Astrophysics division director at Headquarters, Washington. “Now that we know there are more planets than stars in our universe, I look forward to the strange, fantastic worlds we’re bound to discover.”

TESS is NASA’s latest satellite to search for planets outside our solar system, known as exoplanets. The mission will spend the next two years monitoring the nearest and brightest stars for periodic dips in their light. These events, called transits, suggest that a planet may be passing in front of its star. TESS is expected to find thousands of planets using this method, some of which could potentially support life.

TESS is a NASA Astrophysics Explorer mission led and operated by MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Dr. George Ricker of MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research serves as principal investigator for the mission.

Additional partners include Northrop Grumman, based in Falls Church, Virginia; NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley; the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts; MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory in Lexington, Massachusetts; and the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. More than a dozen universities, research institutes and observatories worldwide are participants in the mission.

For the latest updates on TESS, visit nasa.gov/tess.

NASA Prepares to Launch a Mission to Touch the Sun

Illustration of NASA’s Parker Solar Probe leaving Earth. (Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Steve Gribben)

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — Early on an August morning, the sky near Cape Canaveral, Florida, will light up with the launch of Parker Solar Probe. No earlier than Aug. 6, 2018, a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy will thunder to space carrying the car-sized spacecraft, which will study the Sun closer than any human-made object ever has.
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NASA Testing Satellite Servicing Technologies on the Ground

Satellite servicing ground test. (Credit: NASA Goddard/Chris Gunn)

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — Satellites are crucial to our everyday lives, but cost hundreds of millions of dollars to manufacture and launch. Currently, they are simply decommissioned when they run out of fuel. However, there is a better way: satellite servicing, which can make spaceflight more sustainable, affordable and resilient. NASA’s satellite servicing technologies are opening up a new world where space robots diagnose, maintain and extend a spacecraft’s life.

At NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, a 10 by 16-foot robot tests satellite servicing capabilities on Earth before they’re put to use in space. Sitting on top of the six-legged hexapod is a partial mock-up of a satellite. Mounted to a panel close by is an advanced robotic arm. Together, these robots practice a calculated dance. As the hexapod moves, it mimics microgravity as the robotic arm reaches out to grab the satellite.

At NASA, we’re working to prove the combination of technologies necessary to robotically refuel a satellite in orbit that was not designed to be serviced. The same technologies developed for the Restore-L project will advance in-orbit repair, upgrade and assembly capabilities.

The ground demonstrations take place in Goddard’s Robotic Operations Center. The hexapod robot was built for NASA by Mikrolar, a New Hampshire-based company.

Disruption Tolerant Networking to Demonstrate Internet in Space

NASA’s new Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem, or PACE, mission will be the first space mission to use a new communication technology. From left to right are the engineers helping to build the mission: Nga Cao, Steve Feng, Wei Lu, Chris Zincke, and Zoran Kahric. (Credit: NASA)

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations and Science Mission Directorates are collaborating to make interplanetary internet a reality.

They’re about to demonstrate Delay/Disruption Tolerant Networking, or DTN – a technology that sends information much the same way as conventional internet does. Information is put into DTN bundles, which are sent through space and ground networks to its destination.

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NASA’s TESS Spacecraft Continues Testing Prior to First Observations

TESS exoplanet satellite (Credit: NASA)

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — After a successful launch on April 18, 2018, NASA’s newest planet hunter, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, is currently undergoing a series of commissioning tests before it begins searching for planets. The TESS team has reported that the spacecraft and cameras are in good health, and the spacecraft has successfully reached its final science orbit. The team continues to conduct tests in order to optimize spacecraft performance with a goal of beginning science at the end of July.

Every new mission goes through a commissioning period of testing and adjustments before beginning science operations. This serves to test how the spacecraft and its instruments are performing and determines whether any changes need to be made before the mission starts observations.

TESS is a NASA Astrophysics Explorer mission led and operated by MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Dr. George Ricker of MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research serves as principal investigator for the mission. Additional partners include Northrop Grumman, based in Falls Church, Virginia; NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley; the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts; MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory in Lexington, Massachusetts; and the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. More than a dozen universities, research institutes and observatories worldwide are participants in the mission.

For the latest updates on TESS, visit nasa.gov/tess.

OSIRIS-REx Successfully Completes Second Deep Space Maneuver

This is an artist’s concept of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft preparing to take a sample from asteroid Bennu. (Credit: NASA/Goddard/Chris Meaney)

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — New tracking data confirms that NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft successfully completed its second Deep Space Maneuver (DSM-2) on June 28. The thruster burn put the spacecraft on course for a series of asteroid approach maneuvers to be executed this fall that will culminate with the spacecraft’s scheduled arrival at asteroid Bennu on Dec. 3.

The DSM-2 burn, which employed the spacecraft’s Trajectory Correction Maneuver (TCM) thruster set, resulted in a 37 miles per hour (16.7 meters per second) change in the vehicle’s velocity and consumed 28.2 pounds (12.8 kilograms) of fuel.

Tracking data from the Deep Space Network provided preliminary confirmation of the burn’s execution, and the subsequent downlink of telemetry from the spacecraft shows that all subsystems performed as expected.

DSM-2 was OSIRIS-REx’s last deep space maneuver of its outbound cruise to Bennu. The next engine burn, Asteroid Approach Maneuver 1 (AAM-1), is scheduled for early October. AAM-1 is a major braking maneuver designed to slow the spacecraft’s speed from approximately 1,130 to 320 miles per hour (506.2 to 144.4 meters per second) relative to Bennu and is the first of four asteroid approach maneuvers scheduled for this fall.

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, provides overall mission management, systems engineering and the safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, Tucson, is the principal investigator, and the University of Arizona also leads the science team and the mission’s observation planning and processing. Lockheed Martin Space in Denver built the spacecraft and is providing spacecraft flight operations. Goddard and KinetX Aerospace are responsible for navigating the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the agency’s New Frontiers Program for its Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

Webb Space Telescope Problems: Excessive Voltage, Wrong Solvent & Loose Nuts

Artist’s impression of James Webb Space Telescope. (Credit: NASA)

NASA established the Independent Review Board (IRB) in April to evaluate the space agency’s $8 billion James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). The report, released last month, revealed a number of eye opening details about problems that NASA and the prime contractor, Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems (NGAS), have been experiencing in building the telescope and managing the program. Below are some key excerpts.

Independent Review Board Report
NASA James Webb Space Telescope

Full Report

Selected Excerpts

There have been several JWST Project problems due to human-induced errors that had substantial cost and schedule impact. In one case, an improper solvent was used to clean propulsion system valves that had been stored. The error was a failure to check with the valve vendor to ensure the solvent to be used was recommended and would not damage the valves. The valves had to be removed from the spacecraft, repaired or replaced, and reinstalled.

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Martian Dust Storm Grows Global: Curiosity Captures Photos of Thickening Haze

In June 2018 NASA’s Curiosity Rover used its Mast Camera, or Mastcam, to snap photos of the intensifying haziness the surface of Mars, caused by a massive dust storm. The rover is standing inside Gale Crater looking out to the crater rim. The photos span about a couple of weeks, starting with a shot of the area before the storm appeared. (Credits: NASA)

GALE CRATER, Mars (NASA PR) — A storm of tiny dust particles has engulfed much of Mars over the last two weeks and prompted NASA’s Opportunity rover to suspend science operations. But across the planet, NASA’s Curiosity rover, which has been studying Martian soil at Gale Crater, is expected to remain largely unaffected by the dust. While Opportunity is powered by sunlight, which is blotted out by dust at its current location, Curiosity has a nuclear-powered battery that runs day and night.

The Martian dust storm has grown in size and is now officially a “planet-encircling” (or “global”) dust event.

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NASA to Host Live Discussion on New Mars Science Results on Thursday

This self-portrait of NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity combines dozens of exposures taken by the rover’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) on Feb. 3, 2013, plus three exposures taken on May 10, 2013. (Credit: NASA)

The media and public are invited to ask questions during a live discussion at 2 p.m. EDT Thursday, June 7, on new science results from NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover. The results are embargoed by the journal Science until then.

The event will air live on NASA Television and the agency’s website.

Michelle Thaller, assistant director of science for communications, in NASA’s Planetary Science Division will host the chat. Participants include:

  • Paul Mahaffy, director of the Solar System Exploration Division at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland
  • Jen Eigenbrode, research scientist at Goddard
  • Chris Webster, senior research fellow, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California
  • Ashwin Vasavada, Mars Science Laboratory project scientist, JPL

The public can send questions on social media by using #askNASA. The event can also be watched on Facebook LiveTwitch TVUstreamYouTube and Twitter/Periscope.

For information about NASA’s Curiorsity rover, visit:

https://www.nasa.gov/msl

GAO: Restore-L Mission Schedule is Lagging

Artist’s conception of Restore-L servicing satellite with Landsat 7. (Credit: NASA)

NASA’s Restore-L project — which aims to demonstrate on-orbit satellite servicing by refueling the Landsat 7 satellite — is running behind schedule due to funding and technical issues, according to an audit from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

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Scientists Shrink Chemistry Lab to Seek Evidence of Life on Mars

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — An international team of scientists has created a tiny chemistry lab for a rover that will drill beneath the Martian surface looking for signs of past or present life. The toaster oven-sized lab, called the Mars Organic Molecule Analyzer or MOMA, is a key instrument on the ExoMars Rover, a joint mission between the European Space Agency and the Russian space agency Roscosmos, with a significant contribution to MOMA from NASA. It will be launched toward the Red Planet in July 2020.

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Lucy Asteroid Mission Moves Toward 2021 Launch

Southwest Research Institute is leading NASA’s Lucy mission, which will launch in 2021 for the first reconnaissance of the Trojans, a population of primitive asteroids orbiting in tandem with Jupiter. In this artist’s concept (not to scale), the Lucy spacecraft is flying by Eurybates, one of the six diverse and scientifically important Trojans to be studied. (Credit: SwRI)

The first mission to explore Trojan asteroids that orbit in tandem with Jupiter is moving forward toward a late 2021 launch date using heritage hardware that has already been tested in space, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) assessment.

“Project officials characterize the Lucy design as low risk because it does not require development of any critical technologies and has a high heritage design,” the GAO found. “For example, these officials stated that Lucy’s design has the same architecture as prior NASA projects such as Juno and the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission (MAVEN).

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Mars Needs Women — NASA Needs Everybody

Credit: American International Television

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

In the 1967 film, Mars Needs Women, a team of martians invades Earth to kidnap women to help repopulate their dying species. Shot over two weeks on a minuscule budget and padded out with stock footage, the movie obtained cult status as one of those cinematic disasters that was so bad it was unintentionally hilarious.

A half century later, NASA finds itself in a not entirely dissimilar situation. Only this problem is not nearly as funny.

The space agency lacks sufficient personnel with the proper skill sets to undertake its complex missions to the moon, Mars and beyond. A number of key programs have been affected by the shortfall already.

NASA’s workforce is also aging. More than half the agency’s employees are 50 years and older, with one-fifth  currently eligible for retirement. Finding replacement workers with the right mix of skills is not always easy as NASA faces increased competition from a growing commercial space sector.

The space agency is addressing these challenges, but it’s too early to tell how successful these efforts will be, according to a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) assessment.

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